On any given day in and around my house you will hear this simple, two-word command: "Leave it!"
The command is directed toward my dog, Kenai (KEE-nigh) -- an intelligent but persistently curious Border Collie mix.
I often wonder whether he has an incredible zest for life or if he has some kind of a death wish because he loves to smell, lick, and eat almost anything he can find. He's well fed; so I know he's not hungry. I'm guessing he just loves to experience everything to the fullest.
Fortunately, for him and for us, he releases whatever is in his mouth when we firmly tell him to leave it. While I admire his sense of adventure, I also wonder if he would still be alive if not for our stern warnings to drop the potential dangers he so loves to taste (I'll spare you the details of the things he's had in his mouth but I'm sure you can imagine...)
Recently I've been thinking more deeply about his seemingly limitless capacity for joy in the small things in life but also the boundaries I've set for him, such as the periodic reminder to let go of things that either he doesn't need or things that could prove harmful, or even deadly.
While our human/dog relationship and our shared interactions are similar to that of parent and child, I believe it is also much like the duality of the human mind and brain. In scientific regards, human brains have a developed pre-frontal cortex, whereas dogs do not. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for complex planning, decision making, and moderating social behavior. It enables what I call "thinking about thinking." It is our mind. So we humans have both a brain and a mind. We have the capacity for good judgment and self-management (capacity connotes potential here; it doesn't mean it's fully functional, especially for some humans I've encountered).
However, our frontal lobes, or our minds, can be harmful to us when we worry about the future or we are afraid to attempt anything risky because of concern over the potential for negative outcomes. Because of our large frontal lobes, and in absence of a healthy perspective on life, we can become consumed by negative thinking. And certainly us humans can be potentially self-destructive if we are lacking in mindfulness and self-awareness. We need a healthy mind that reminds us not to fear things too much but also to "Leave it," to know when to let go of the things that may prove harmful to us.
"Dogs don’t rationalize. They don’t hold anything against a person. They don’t see the outside of a human but the inside of a human." ~ Cesar Millan
Although they don't always know what's best for them, the dog's advantage in having a pre-frontal cortex that is less complex than ours is that they don't spend time worrying about the future. Everything is about the present moment; they don't judge or hold grudges. Their strength and weakness is the same -- they can act without thinking of consequences. Put simply, they are perpetually and completely authentic. They can live and love with no bounds. I admire that tremendously.
Here is where my thinking about my dog's behavior has led: For humans, a healthy balance of mind and brain is integral for complete happiness and it is not different than a dog that has good human parents. Kenai has a happy life because he has a healthy balance of adventure and responsibility. He can live fully in the present moment and enjoy all the small things in life, such as taking walks, going for car rides, sticking his nose out the window, and doing his smelling and licking. But he also has human parents that tell him when to "Leave it."
Therefore if we humans can use our minds as parental controls but still allow ourselves to experience life fully, we can arrive at a healthy balance of mind and brain, or of human and dog, if you will.
Without the mind, or what we may call self-awareness, mindfulness, or consciousness, the mindless brain would run off the leash and possibly destroy itself. Or perhaps we would be happier without any inhibitions or concern over the potential danger?
"The nature of man as a combination of mind and body is such that it is bound to mislead him from time to time." ~ Rene Descartes
Intuitively, you already know of the potentially self-destructive behaviors but I can help with a few reminders of when your mind can tell your brain to "Leave it!":
- Mass Media
- Misguided Fear
- Negative Thinking
- Narrow Perspective
Can you think of others? And remember moderation! Have fun. Have your cake but eat your fruits and vegetables, too.
Nothing is really dangerous... if you know when to leave it.